Perdita Weeks is back on the big screen this week as she mixes adventure and horror in As Above, So Below.
We caught up with the actress to chat about the film, working with director John Erick Dowdle, and what lies ahead.
- You are back on the big screen this week in As Above, So Below, so can you tell me a bit about the movie?
As Above, So Below is about a girl called Scarlett Marlow, who is an archaeologist. She is desperately searching - and has been for some time prior to the movie - for the philosopher’s stone, which is a historical artefact that her father spent a lot of time looking for and trying to prove the existence of. She teams up with a friend of hers who is a documentary filmmaker, his name is Benji, and he wants to document her search for this item.
They go to Paris and look for another friend of hers - who is an old flame - called George, who has some of the knowledge that she lacks. They get three French people to lead them down into the catacombs, after discovering that this is where the artefact might be. They get pushed deeper and deeper into the catacombs and drama ensues - not to give anything away (film).
- You take on the central role of Scarlett in the film, so what was it about this character and the script that drew you to the project?
When I first read it, I just thought ‘god that is going to be an incredibly fun shoot’. I felt that I might have been able to mould a little bit of myself into the character, which I was able to do.
She is very strong, has a huge amount of motivation with her path: it makes all the decisions that you make as an actor very easy if your character has one incredibly decisive reason to be doing what they are doing. She is a very headstrong character.
I also liked all of the relationships that she had with the other characters within it, as it makes it slightly more than just your average horror film. There is a massive backstory to Scarlett and the other characters, and that is what the film reveals bit by bit. Shooting in Paris was also good (laughs).
To me, she was this female Indiana Jones and there is a lot of action, and this is the type of film that I have wanted to do for ages. It was a no-brainer really.
- That slightly touches on my next question really. John Erick Dowdle is no stranger to the horror genre but he has brought a real action/adventure feel to this film. How much was that a draw for you?
Loads. I personally cannot watch horror films: I am a scardy cat and scare incredibly easily. For me, the adventure side of it was the real draw. I also liked the historical side to the story as well.
All of the facts - however tenuously linked they may be - they all stand up to scrutiny. People will actually learn things from this film and can go and Google them and figure out the story for themselves.
The catacombs are a real place and people can go there: the history that we describe in the film is correct. I love films that have a basis in reality and have all of that backstory.
The Da Vinci Code and films of that nature are the ones that I really enjoy because you are learning and working out riddles as you go along. For me, the film is mostly that with some scary bits in it. However, the horror fans will really love it as well as the horror is really scary (laughs).
- The movie gave you the chance to shoot in the catacombs, so how exciting was it to be in that environment? I was reading that you had to shoot with a skeleton crew.
We had a skeleton crew when we were shooting in the restricted area because there just wasn’t enough room for all of those people. However, I think the less people you have on the set the better as it just concentrates everyone’s effort. The crew had to hide behind rocks and god knows where so that the camera could swing around freely - so less of them was actually useful.
- There is an incredibly claustrophobic feel to the film, so how comfortable were you with the set from that point of view? I think that John captures that really well.
Absolutely. Luckily, I am not at all claustrophobic. When we went down there for the first time, it was like ‘oh my god are we actually going to shoot an entire film in these caves for two months? ‘You had to go down about four hundred steps to get there in the first place and as you walk around, you completely lose your orientation.
People were smashing their heads because the ceiling height changes so much. - there are lights down there but we turned them off to shoot. The one thing that was a little worrying - and you tried not to think about it - everywhere you walk in the catacombs there are massive cracks in the ceiling and piles of stone vaguely holding the ceiling up: there was a feeling of ‘this could actually collapse’.
It was the feeling of just having one way out that was the thing that really bothered me: I had always been taught by my mum to know where the nearest exit is just in case. To know that the only way out is four hundred steps up, round tiny tunnels and dark passages does not instil you with much confidence. It all adds to the fun and games of it all.
Shooting in those difficult conditions was a very unifying experience and by the end of it you are such good friends and you have all had this bizarre shared experience It was quite fun really.
- John Erick Dowdle is in the director's chair for the film, so how did you find working with him?
Fantastic. He was so enthusiastic about every aspect of this film; there was never a moment where he was grumpy or snappy: you could tell that he was having the time of his life. He was very keen to let us explore different avenues and ideas. John also had his brother Drew there - he is producing - was great because they have such a great relationship working and outside of work.
It was just a fun and really relaxed atmosphere. It should have been the most horrendous shoot of my entire life, but in fact, it was the best. When someone has a great attitude, are really relaxed and full of energy, that trickles down and everyone was buoyed by his mentality. I would do it again in a heartbeat, such a nice guy.
- Away from the film, we are also going to be seeing you in ITV mini-series The Great Fire later this year, so can you tell me about that?
In The Great Fire, I play Elizabeth Pepys, a real historical character who was married to Samuel Pepys. It is a four part series that shows a dramatized version of events, starting with the fire at the bakery in Pudding Lane: the baker is being played by Andy Buchanan.
There are several different kinds of sib-stories going on as well as the fire itself: we know from Samuel Pepys how that progressed.
There are other plots, including what is going on in the court and what is going on between Samuel Pepys and his wife. Our relationship plays an interesting foil to the main narrative of the actual events happening within the fire.
I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I am pretty sure that there will be something for everyone. I had a blast working on it. Daniel Mays plays Samuel, and I have been an admirer of his for so long: when I heard that he had been cast I was really keen to do it. I think it is going to look beautifully, I saw some of the playback, and it looks like a Vermeer painting. We will see, it should be good.
- During your career, we have seen you move between TV and film, so how do you find the two mediums compare?
I don’t know that there is that much different. In film, you do have a little bit more money and so you can take a little bit longer with it. These days, it is almost the same thing.
The production values are so high in television these days. Following America’s lead, I think British TV is fantastic. I don’t prefer one medium to the other - I don’t think anyone really does.
- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of 2014?
I am currently doing a cameo role in The Musketeers. I am in Prague at the moment. That is going to be a really fun character to play. But, once again, I am in a corset!!
As Above, So Below is out now.